A new summer camp for preschool-age children is opening in Pennington this year. Focusing on reading and literacy preparation, Camp K is the brainchild of Casey Cirullo Upson, a Pennington native, literacy instructor and former first grade teacher.
After looking at local summer camp options for her own two daughters, Upson felt like she could create something that was missing in the community.
“I really built it around what my dream camp would be for my girls,” Upson says. “I wanted my girls to have some camp, some structure, something fun to go to with friends, and I love literacy.”
After sharing her idea with Tammy Eng, the director of St. Mathews Little Leisure where her daughters attend preschool, Eng agreed to rent Upson some classroom space for the summer.
Upson hired fellow literacy teachers that are also mothers as instructors, and says the expertise of the teachers sets her camp apart.
“Our teachers are masters in literacy,” she says. “They have tons of experience and are moms…we are making fun out of literacy in a safe, wonderful environment.”
Upson is basing her camp instruction off a system called “Balanced Literacy,” a program that blends reading, writing and phonics together to facilitate literacy and comprehension.
For example, when reading a book about the beach, Upson’s students will look at the pictures on the cover of the book, talk about their own experiences going to the beach, read a page and talk through questions about the subject matter.
“So many kids can read words these days but struggle with comprehension,” Upson says. “Learning to talk and think and question, — ‘would you share your sand bucket with her? ‘ — it gets them to start having those conversations.”
For older students, Upson plans to have children keep blank journals where they will draw pictures about their camp experiences and begin to write words identifying those experiences. Even if the only words the children write are “a” and “the”, Upson says it gets them playing and working with letters.
“Instead of just rote memorization, the child learns in a natural way instead of a forced way and we are hoping they learn how to learn,” Upson says.
Upson also stresses that her program focuses on children’s individual learning styles and levels, and is not a “one size fits all” approach.
“Any chance to expose my children to reading and literacy skills in a play-based learning environment is a win-win for me,” says Katherine Birkenstock, a local mom whose 3-year-old son will attend Camp K this summer.
Camp sessions are offered in 3-day or 4-day options, and each room can host 15 to 18 students overseen by one certified master teacher as well as a junior or senior from The College of New Jersey.
Each day will be structured around a different book theme, with free play and activities such as writing in sand or finger paint, tracing letters with water and using songs, poems and dance to reinforce book subjects.
“The [kids] don’t know that all the songs and poems are beginning literacy work, and letters and sounds for little ones,” Upson says. “We can recognize what kids need and adjust.”
Upson says that as a professional educator, she is aware of the landscape in public school pedagogy and believes literacy prep – when done in a fun way – can help preschoolers prepare for the elementary school world.
“We are building something fun where children might learn a poem and get their name written right,” she says. “They think they are playing and having fun, but they are starting to get the foundation for literacy.”
For more information about Camp K visit: http://www.literacyedgenj.com/home.html, call 609-206-7910 or email [email protected].